With “Too” HVOB releases its fourth studio album – and it gets loud. From the first beat, the techno enthusiasts ANNA MÜLLER and PAUL WALLNER deliver “kickdrums” that would certainly make for a delightful afternoon hang in the premises of FM4. In the controlled realm of their own fragility HVOB dares to rave. That’s why “Too” has also become “the hardest and most vulnerable record”, one can presume. Why you should always listen to your parents and everything repeats itself; what songs by Blümchen have to do with your own sound, and why you should never meet your idols, MÜLLER and WALLNER explained in conversation with Christoph Benkeser.
The album begins with a track on which a hard techno kick marches through, as if something old must first be destroyed before something new can emerge.
Paul Wallner: Tearing down old things was at least not planned by us. We wanted to combine the old with the new. “Bruise”, the first number, came about spontaneously, without much thought. In the beginning there was the kick, which sounded fresh to both of us. We knew we wanted to make something out of it.
Anna Müller: It’s the first number on the album, but the last one we produced. We combined the lovelier HVOB sound with the hardest kick on the record. Before the release of the single, I was excited because I knew it was different from the sound people associate us with. But people received the song positively. The general feeling was: this is HVOB – but somehow different. That made me feel relieved. The bellyache was gone.
Bellyaches can also be a good sign.
Paul Wallner: Of course, at the same time it’s also – and hopefully you’ll notice this when you listen through our discography so far – a step. Not necessarily forward, but at least sideways. We don’t want to consciously avoid repetition, but it would be boring to keep producing the same thing over and over. That’s why we’re looking for things to do differently. Who knows, maybe it will be even faster on the next record?
That would be in line with the zeitgeist – everyone wants to rave!
Anna Müller: We already get what’s happening around us. These are sounds that I find exciting right now, so it’s reflected in our sound.
Still, you just mentioned the “loveliness” in your sound. I find that exciting because it is overwritten by a new sound.
Anna Müller: We haven’t lost it. The sweetness, that’s also me somehow – just because of my voice. We’ve just packaged it differently.
I recently talked to journalist Stefan Niederwieser about the “sweetness” in your sound. Doesn’t that contain a certain traditional gender attribution?
Paul Wallner: No, not at all. Between us, I’m often the one who wants to make the sound more sweet or soft, while Anna wants it even rougher. That’s why we don’t assign roles.
Anna Müller: With the sweetness I consciously mean my voice – also because Paul doesn’t sing.
Paul Wallner: Not yet!
Let’s not announce anything that isn’t necessarily coming!
Paul Wallner: Currently I can rule it out – the world has enough problems!
“The harder the number, the more melodic it can be.”
So let’s talk a little bit about the interaction between the hardness of the sound and the vulnerability of the message.
Paul Wallner: But we have always combined that, haven’t we? It starts with “Trialog” and goes on, we just pushed the two poles further apart. Nevertheless, they fit together.
Anna Müller: That’s why “Too” is our hardest and softest album. We worked out two extremes that relate to each other. That didn’t happen consciously. It just happened.
Paul Wallner: Especially with “Bruise” you can see that very well. It is at the same time the hardest and the most melodic number. That fits together. Only melody would be too flat for us. The harder the number, the more melodic it can be.
Can the playfulness hide behind the facade of hard tracks?
Anna Müller: I wouldn’t say that. I’m not afraid of pop, melody and vulnerability in music. That’s why I don’t feel that we have to hide anything in our music, on the contrary: we have to be able to stand behind it 100 percent.
Paul Wallner: And with “Bruise” it just had to rock!
Anna Müller: At the same time I like this trancy element. The melody opens up the song.
Something that you can perceive most recently in techno. The fear of melody is gone.
Anna Müller: That’s exciting, because it reminds me a little of the sound of my childhood. When I was ten, I had Blümchen and Die Schlümpfe, which went totally in a happy rave direction – and was really uncool for 20 years. Now that sound is coming back, it’s repeating itself.
We’re moving in a loop!
Anna Müller: We’re getting to an age where you realize that things come back. Back then, when my parents said that things from the 60s and 70s were coming back, I couldn’t understand that. In the meantime, I’ve noticed that some things do indeed repeat themselves – but that’s probably also due to getting older.
Is there a way out of the loop or do you have to embrace it?
Anna Müller: I already liked this rave music when I was ten. That’s why I find it beautiful, because it repeats something from my childhood. I notice that people who are 15 years younger than us listen to this music – and fully embrace it. It’s funny, but most of all it’s liberating! After all, it makes you realize that music is often stuck in thought cages. According to the motto: Just because something is considered uncool at the moment, you can’t listen to it. Yet it comes back 20 years later and is celebrated. That’s how you can tell how opinion-forming music is. You know what I mean?
It forms social patterns, yes.
Anna Müller: Exactly! It’s too often stuck in constraints or opinions where it’s not about whether you like it or not, but whether it’s socially accepted. That’s why I want to appeal to all people to listen to what pleases – and not what is accepted in a group of people.
The process of how what was previously not accepted changes into something that is suddenly accepted again is exciting. You realize that nothing is fixed and everything is in flux.
Paul Wallner: Isn’t it always like that in life? People live from their experiences and develop new things based on the experiences they have. This can also be applied to musical styles. New things don’t just emerge, it’s a process that knows a “before”. What is fresh today is a combination of existing styles that rearrange themselves. That’s why it’s nice to quote what exists, but put it together differently. If you were to make a trance record the way it was produced back then, it probably wouldn’t be accepted today either …
Well, whereas …
Paul Wallner: Yes, exactly! I can become friends with all styles of music, even in trance there are good tracks! That’s why you’re allowed to quote that, if you dress it in your own garb.
A positive nostalgia resonates, doesn’t it?
Anna Müller: Yes, absolutely. That is also allowed.
We’re talking about “Bruise” all the time, but I’d still like to ask a question about it, because one of the lines of lyrics got close to me and it conveys a feeling that I’m sure is familiar to many people: “It’s the hardest thing to choose, what to keep and what to lose.” What accompanied that decision?
Anna Müller: It reflected a situation that you don’t want to change, even though you know you have to change it because you can’t go on any other way. This decision has a lot to do with pain – and how much pain one can endure or wants to endure. Many can recognize themselves in this, even though I am only talking about my experiences.
One channels the pain and leads the decision over into a hedonistic sound.
Anna Müller: I haven’t thought of it that way yet, but the idea aligns. The hard beat drives the decision. It’s the stubborn follow-through that – just like in the beat – can be painful.
At the same time, many of the record’s lyrics allude to a self-doubt that, for me, is especially evident on “Gluttony”: “Only with a hole in my body I feel alive.” You penetrate yourself and go out of yourself through it.
Anna Müller: That’s the first time I’ve heard it that way. It’s exciting because I realize that many people bring different views to the lyrics.
Paul Wallner: There is no one truth behind a track. Rather, it lies within oneself. The moment I hear a song, it is my world of thoughts. That’s why I don’t need an explanation – I don’t even want to know it!
That sums it up well, that’s why we’re talking …
Paul Wallner: It’s like in an art exhibition: don’t read the package inserts, but let the picture have an effect on you. After all, it’s supposed to trigger something. That doesn’t work if someone explains it to me.
Nevertheless, many people want an explanation.
Anna Müller: I have never understood this approach. Music is listening and the triggering of a feeling – so how does the whole thing affect me?
Paul Wallner: You know this from songs where you don’t understand the lyrics, so you make your own interpretations and thereby develop a completely different opinion about it. That’s nice, because it shows what it should be: You have to make up your own mind.
“SUDDENLY YOU REMEMBER HOW YOU FELT WHEN YOU WERE 23.”
After all, each person brings their own horizon of knowledge and experience.
Paul Wallner: That’s why every single person relates something different to it. Partly, songs exist that I can hardly listen to because I associate them with certain feelings that make me infinitely sad. Nevertheless, it is my own relationship to the song and probably not what the person thought when they wrote the song.
It’s good to know that these songs exist for you – they are go-to places to evoke feelings.
Paul Wallner: That’s right. I have an arsenal of songs that put me in various moods.
Anna Müller: Or into certain phases of life! Suddenly you remember how you felt when you were 23. That’s the magic of music, that you have to put your own feeling into it so that it triggers something.
Paul Wallner: And it’s different for everyone!
Paul Wallner: Well, maybe there is even an opinion that you as a performer want to represent in the song – but in the end it doesn’t come across anyway. At least that’s what I think when I reflect on my role as a listener. You would have to read all the interviews of the artist to understand what is meant. That would probably destroy a lot and is a bit like meeting your idol only to realize that the person is completely different than you imagined.
You destroy your own illusion and can never hear the songs again.
Paul Wallner: I had that with youth heroes, of whom I was disappointed beyond measure after I met them. On the other hand, there are artists of whom I didn’t like the music, but who convinced me with their friendliness.
As you say, it’s different for everyone.
Paul Wallner: That’s why it’s so difficult to talk about it. In the end, you just have to preserve this free space, because everybody can use it for themselves.
We have to preserve the free space, but at the same time see what happens.
Anna Müller: Those are nice words. HVOB – we’ll see what happens first.
The honest approach!
Anna Müller: Yes! We can only do our best. What happens with it, we can not influence.
Paul Wallner: But it’s especially important in music making to have a free space, isn’t it? That you don’t think about what people think of it. Otherwise it would immediately lead to a blockade …
Anna Müller: That’s the beauty of our collaboration.
Paul Wallner: That we don’t let this thought of whether something will be received or not come up at all, yes!
And how do you preserve this free space? It doesn’t just happen, does it?
Paul Wallner: That’s a difficult question that I would have to think about for a long time to be able to give a well-founded answer. Free space is probably the result of a process that lasts for years. At the same time, it’s not so easy to break it down. As I said: It is always different!
That’s how it should be! Thank you very much for your time!
“TOO” will be released on April 8, 2022 on [PIAS].
Translated from the German original by Arianna Alfreds.